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Zinke Strips Away Protections, Reduces Public Comment Period on Federal Lands

Zinke eases the way for more oil drilling on sensitive federal lands

Expect more oil and gas drilling on federal lands. A new policy implemented by the Trump administration rolls back oil and gas drilling policies for federal land implemented in 2010 by the Obama administration. A recent Bureau of Land Management memo states that public review and disclosure of environmental harm from drilling and fracking will be eliminated.

Stripping away protections for sensitive habitat

BLM staff will be restricted from removing land from auction even if it contains sensitive wildlife habitat. In addition, the BLM wants to remove master leasing plans which were implemented by the Obama administration, and give the public only 10 days to protest a lease sale. The purpose of the MLPs is to keep development from sensitive lands. The memo states that the BLM “will not initiate any new MLPs or complete ongoing MLPs under consideration as land use plan amendments.”

“Count this foolish decision as another victory for oil companies at the expense of public participation,” said Center for Western Priorities Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman. He added that MLPs “are incredibly important tools to help land managers and local communities plan where and how oil and gas development happens while avoiding conflicts between outdoor recreation, wildlife, and water supplies.”

NEPA no more?

Environmental and public review of leases is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The BLM is eliminating them and pressuring staff to put all lands at auction that have been nominated by the oil and gas industry. It has been long been BLM policy to defer parcels from lease auctions that have environmental concerns. For parcels to be removed from auctions, the BLM’s Washington, D.C. office must give approval.

The BLM also rescinded the 2015 final rule on fracking that aimed to ensure wells are constructed to protect water supplies and manage the fluids that flow back to the surface as part of fracking operations in an environmentally responsible manner. The BLM stated in a press release that the decision is part of the Trump administration’s goal to “reduce the burden of federal regulations that hinder economic growth and energy development.”

Zinke’s mission: corporate handover

Conservation and environmental groups are speaking out about the BLM’s decisions. Tracy Stone-Manning, National Wildlife Federation’s associate vice president for public lands, stated that the Trump administration is not only “rolling back safeguards for fish and wildlife and other natural resources, it’s also making it harder for Americans to weigh in on decisions about their own public lands by decreasing opportunities for input.” She added that the “headlong rush to prioritize energy development above all other uses is nothing but a giveaway to the oil and gas industry.”

“It’s deeply disturbing that the Trump administration wants to give fossil fuel companies free rein over our public lands without community input or analysis of environmental harms,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump clearly puts profits ahead of public health, wildlife and wild places.”

Drill baby, drill

President Trump announced in December that his administration would reduce the size of two Utah national monuments. On February 2, Trump’s proclamation reducing the size of the monuments took effect, which allows mining claims to be made.

A recent poll found that two-thirds of residents of eight Western states, including Utah, think it is a bad idea to reduce the size of the two Utah monuments. Despite the overwhelming support for protection by westerners, the Congress has indicated it will side with the Trump administration. Congressional members introduced two bills that would codify the reductions of the Utah monuments into law.


Image Credit: Zbynek Burival

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